By Najib Nsubuga
The GOU through the MoES suspended operations of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers, as a precautionary measure to continue protecting parents and children from the deadly coronavirus. The reasons given were too abstract for the layman to effectively comprehend.
The suspension attracted mixed reaction from the population: some condemned it (probably because they appreciate the role of ECD centers), yet others welcomed it (not necessarily as a strategy to curb the spread of the virus, but because they ignorantly think investment in ECD is a waste of resources).
Such approval indicated that the ministry had not labored to make people understand the reason for suspension, without undermining the importance of ECD centers to the provision Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). To the layman, suspending ECD centers (without clear explanation and plan) as other children return to school meant that those centers are not that important.
Having realized the importance of professional deliberate ECCE as the foundation for lifelong learning and success in life, the government passed the ECCE Policy in 2007 (to be revised every 5years), with the ultimate goal of “providing a framework for standardising ECCE and enhancing the development and management of ECCE service delivery”. This development led to improvement in the subsector, leading to a decline in repetition and wastage at later stages, most especially the primary level.
According to the Education Statistics Abstract 2017, the preprimary subsector is the least attended with an enrolment of only 15.6% of the eligible 3,614,827 children aged 3-5 years. This implies that the subsector needs more boosting than setbacks. However, if the current position on ECD centers is not revised, the strides made in the last decade shall extremely be undermined and recovery will be a hard ride!
However much the policy puts the parent at the forefront of the provision of ECD services, it also provides for the establishment of private ECD centers at all government primary schools and those established by the private sector and NGOs. In order to give all learners an equal start, the policy further provides for a standardised curriculum—The Learning Framework, to be followed by all stakeholders engaged in the provision of ECD services for children aged 3-6 years. The implementation of the Learning Framework cannot be realised without formal ECD centers.
ECD includes a range of services (health nutrition, care, stimulation and education) leading to the holistic development of the child’s cognitive/intellectual, social/moral and physical/psychomotor skills for success in life. Therefore, there is need for well-defined deliberate professional avenues through which children acquire those skills. I find the decision to suspend ECD centers counterproductive on three grounds:
The emphasis on ECD centers is premised on the background that not all parents know what to do in order to prepare their kids for primary school and life at large. Additionally, a number of parents spend the day at work and rarely get time to engage their children at home. Government has also failed to fulfill her commitment on parent education for effective ECD.
It is suicidal to assume that parents can singlehandedly (without ECD centers) deliver the Learning Framework which has no provision for home deliver, and realisation of the goals of the ECCE policy . For example, children sometimes dont even get the basic play at home due to numerous restrictions and may not have the chance to interact with peers and elders beyond those in the home.
A big percentage of parents lack the necessary skill and patience needed to educate young ones and majority end up irritated which sometimes results into violence against the child. The situation is worse for children with learning difficulties since majority parents may not be able to detect them as early as possible. Parents are thus more positioned to provide the care and informal education but can hardly play the deliberate formal and nonformal part of education.
Secondly, declaring 5years as the enrollment age for Primary one by learners that have not attended preprimary education defeats logic. It is contrary to prevailing education legislation including the Education Act and the ECCE policy that sets the primary enrolment age at 6years. Research indicates that by six years, children become more independent and can easily be on their own unlike those below that age.
Therefore, we may not only have children with varying levels of preparation and development, but we shall have children that are too young for primary one. There is a likelihood that some parents may even enroll children younger than five years. This shall result into slowed learning, repetition and a dislike of the school at a very early age.
Lastly, the suspension is likely to bring about an increase in unstructured provision of ECE in the communities. This has been the case throughout the closure and it is likely to spiral. Teachers and masqueraders in search for survival resorted to the establishment of unauthorized centers in their homes for the provision of ECD services.
Unlike the suspended formal ECD centers that may easily abide by established SOPs, the unauthorized clusters of learners have a higher risk of spreading the disease since there is no one to monitor what they do. Additionally, the quality of education given to the learners through such arrangements may not measure to the needed standards.
The suspension of ECD centers not only affects children but also parents, business owners and teachers depending on these centers, Universities, teacher training institutions and ECD teacher trainees meant to undergo school practice to complete their programs and the country at large.
Government should engage stakeholders providing ECD services to examine facts for a viable plan with least chances of spreading the virus. This may include strict adherence to Covid-19 SOPs, routine check-up, decongestion of classrooms, reduction in weekly school hours and emphasis on community ECD centers.
Suspension of ECD centers, without a clear plan for ECE takes us back to the old days, and has far-reaching implications to the education sector beyond the effect of Covid-19.
The writer is a teacher and ECD enthusiast